M. Night Shyamalan Directed Movies Ranked
9. The Visit (2015)
Much like Wide Awake, M. Night Shyamalan’s 2015 low budget horror The Visit was distinctly average and almost entirely forgettable, but given the run of notably poor movies the director had released (in a row) ahead of writing and directing this film, “distinctly average” was a welcomed change in direction for the screenwriter-director’s quickly plummeting career.
Having learned how to write marketable material between his 1998 theatrical debut and this 2015 release, The Visit ranks above Wide Awake because it ticks more boxes, offering a satisfying albeit far from spectacular watch that includes a number of solid thrills and all the elements of a small budget modern horror/thriller that you’d expect – and just as the genre was beginning to truly take off once again.
As a director of suspense, Shyamalan had always excelled, and in writing for a genre that was reliant upon suspense to survive, it was as if he forced himself into a corner from which he had to rely upon the very traits that made him famous. The result was a far more positive one than his poorly judged sci-fi fare, and perhaps signalled the beginning of a miniature Shyamaissance.
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8. Old (2021)
Having regained favour (and importantly patience) in his run between The Visit and Glass (2015-2019), M. Night Shyamalan once again developed an original mind-bending screenplay, this time promising the existential dread of people rapidly aged by a mysterious beach.
The result was a mix of the best and worst of Shyamalan’s creativity: some quality psychological and bodily nightmare fuel proving to be excellent and disturbing in equal measure; some cheesy and unrealistic dialogue. Ultimately, the worst elements restricted Old from ever fully getting under your skin.
In this instance, the lofty concept was actually shackled by Shyamalan’s screenwriting signature, the twist, and ensured that not only were some truly astonishing ideas never truly realised, but that we were always kept at an arm’s length, awaiting the inevitable instead of being swept away by the action (quite the irony for a film with a message of embracing your present instead of fearing your future).
There is a lot to analyse here, whether it be that the film is an allegory for the end of cinema or a metaphor for the human experience of the pandemic we’ve each lived through, and (as with the filmmaker’s great work) Old always maintains your attention – but it’s not Shyamalan at his most relentless genius or his most tuned out, it’s just another entry many people will forget with time.
7. Knock at the Cabin (2022)
Mending some of the issues from his previous film Old – notably the mechanical dialogue and strange pacing issues – Knock at the Cabin was in many ways a return to the basics of storytelling for M. Night Shyamalan, the at-times great and at-times questionable writer-director making what is effectively his career’s bottle episode.
In taking a step away from total control to allow new writing partners into his work – Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman of short film Monsters (2015) – the tension within the piece was able to flow through naturalistic conversations and debate, the characters able to flourish as individuals even within the film’s more grandiose intentions (which hasn’t always been evident in Shyamalan’s work).
There’s no doubt that a smaller budget Shyamalan project can be as interesting as any film, and the singular setting and focus on philosophical tensions did reap the rewards of a tight story presented effectively and with small flourishes of the filmmaker’s traits and call backs, but Knock at the Cabin isn’t the visual spectacle of some of the films to come on this list, nor as heart-pulsing, exciting or nerve-wracking; it’s more of an enjoyable thought experiment.